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Phoenix Forgotten (Movie Review)

Phoenix Forgotten (Movie Review)
04.22.2017by: Mike Sprague
4 10

PLOT: Mysterious lights appear over Phoenix so three teens head out into the desert to document the strange events. They disappear and are never seen again. Now, unseen footage has been discovered, chronicling the final hours of their fateful expedition.

REVIEW: Let me begin by saying I don't usually watch found footage movies in the theater. In fact, PHOENIX FORGOTTEN is only the second flick I've seen in the theater. The other was PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2. I don't believe the "illusion" of found footage works in a theater. Found footage should be viewed in accordance with the experience the filmmakers are trying to recreate. The experience of watching something one might find on YouTube for instance. In a theater, strangers sitting next to you, popcorn in your lap, and ass in an uncomfortable seat, you are never less than 100% sure you're viewing a movie. That said, let's get to this review.

PHOENIX FORGOTTEN follows Sophia (Florence Hartigan), a girl making a documentary about her older brother (Luke Spencer Roberts) who went missing back in 1997 while filming his own documentary, of sorts, following the infamous Phoenix Lights incident. For most of the film's running time, we follow the documentary Sophia is currently shooting in 2017, which is intercut with footage from the day her brother and his two friends (Chelsea Lopez and Justin Matthews) went missing out in the desert. Eventually, the footage stops. At first, it seems her brother left his camera in the car before setting out into the desert, but later we find out there was another camera, with another tape, and on this tape lies the truth about what happened to the three filmmakers. Stop me if you've heard this one. 

While most found footage movies are compared to THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, to not compare PHOENIX FORGOTTEN to the classic witch-flick wouldn't be right as this new film follows, mostly, beat for beat in the footsteps of that film. Three filmmakers making a documentary? Check. Two boys, one girl? Check. Hell, one of the dudes is even named Josh. Yeah. True story. In fact, to sum up PHOENIX FORGOTTEN, imagine THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT - but in the dessert. Now imagine instead of a scary-ass witch hunting the dark woods, there is a bright light that makes loud noises. Not much of a villain. Not much of a threat. Hence, not much to be afraid of. 

One of the film's major issues is that it sets up the story as the sister's tale. She narrates the film. We open at her birthday party. We are introduced to our three missing kids through her. We follow the mystery through her eyes and her camera. And then, in the third act, she drops out of the movie altogether (the film goes full-on found footage at this point) and we NEVER go back to her. Ever. What we are left with is a film where, for two full acts, we follow a character we grow to sympathize and identify with - only to receive three all-new protagonists in the film's third and final act. Imagine, for instance, watching THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. We are following Lisbeth's investigation into Harriet's disappearance. Now imagine if that film's third act didn't feature Lisbeth at all, and instead focused exclusively on Harriet. Never to return to Lisbeth. Or her resolution. Not great storytelling, huh?

I tend to enjoy most found footage films (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION and MR. JONES are exceptions). That said, this one did nothing for me. Never once did I feel fear. Or suspense. Or tension. Sure, the flick is interesting, but a horror movie needs to be more than interesting. You need to have a better antagonist than bright lights and loud noises. Eventually, the film picks up in the third act, but I can't tell you about those parts. Not in detail anyhow. What I can say is when the "threat" comes into play, there are a handful of effectively intense moments. But those moments are mostly effective due to the surround sound in the theater. Watched on VOD even these moments are sure to lose their power. That said, I have to give the film credit for containing exactly ZERO jump-scares. Not one. Also, the mystery concerning exactly what "it" is hidden within those bright lights may have changed the game. But it happened too fast. I couldn't tell what I was looking at. However, I'm pretty sure "it" was what I think it was, and that image is going to stick with me for a while.

But, again, I dig most found footage so if you tend to dislike the sub-genre maybe it works backward and you'll dig this one. But I doubt it... All of the issues people complain about when it comes to found footage are on display here; nothing happens for long periods of time, and when the shite finally does hit the fan, the camera shakes/glitches so much that you can't see anything. And I'm talking about anything. Half the time I couldn't tell if we were looking at the ground, the sky, a character, a bush, or just camera grain/glitch noise. In closing, PHOENIX FORGOTTEN is a film that is better off... wait for it... wait... Nope. Not gonna do it. 

Extra Tidbit: PHOENIX FORGOTTEN is now playing in theaters.

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